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What is addiction and why do we become addicted?

Research into substance abuse and compulsive behaviours[i] shows that in addition to becoming addicted to the substance and/or the behaviour, we can also become psychologically addicted to the way we feel when we take substances or do activities (e.g. gambling). This is thought to occur because the reward and pleasure pathways in our brain can be activated when we abuse drugs, alcohol, food, exercise, pornography, gambling etc[ii].

So if a substance we take (i.e. alcohol, drugs or food) or activity we do (i.e. gambling, gaming, extreme sports) has the ability to alter our body’s chemistry, it can also change what we are feeling, thinking and how we behave.

However, when our use becomes compulsive and interferes with our work, relationships and health, it can be a sign of addiction. Addiction can also be viewed as repeatedly choosing one particular way of self-medicating against life.

WHY DO WE NEED TO SELF-MEDICATE AGAINST LIFE?

  • Maybe daily life is too stressful, full on or DULL
  • Or maybe we need to take the edge off feelings of depression, anxiety, loneliness, sadness, stress, emptiness, tension, exhaustion or boredom
  • Perhaps we self-medicate to intensify life’s moments, boost feelings of euphoria or wellbeing
  • Or reward ourselves for getting through something
  • Or to get more energy to do more things

In essence, addictive use of substances or activities allows us to temporarily stimulate, heighten, numb and soothe ourselves in order to AVOID or CHANGE what we are FEELING in any moment.

In doing so, we lose our natural connection to our bodies and override or dull our awareness of the messages it is continually communicating to us ... however the effects are only ever temporary.

The uncomfortable FEELINGS we are trying to avoid always return, or the stimulation and euphoria is short-lived and we become caught in a cycle of seeking more substances or activities to not feel again or feel something different.

To make matters worse, when we become physically dependent on and tolerant to substances or activities, we need to continue to use in greater amounts in order to avoid unpleasant withdrawal symptoms or achieve previous effects (tolerance).

Many addictions also arise from the need to self-medicate and avoid the unpleasant feelings associated with previous traumas, hurts and rejections. Just as substances and activities alter our bodies’ nervous systems, chemistry, thinking and moods, so do trauma and hurts. These traumas and hurts are stored in our bodies/minds as emotional memories, which are triggered in daily life over and over again, causing unpleasant feelings and reactions (i.e. anxiety, anger, sadness).

As subjects of energy we can never stop feeling what is happening to us in life, we can only block our awareness to those feelings. So that is why self-medicating and becoming addicted to certain foods, drinks, drugs and activities (gambling, gaming, pornography, extreme sports) are so prevalent and common in today’s society

There is a more natural way of living, where we are not living in a constant state of anxiety and nervous energy, trying to keep up with life or to feel more alive. Self-medication can only ever be a short-term avoidance of anxiety; depression and addiction can often worsen these crippling states. This more supportive way of living actually lowers anxiety or feelings of worthlessness, so it is not necessary to rely on self medication to numb, dull or excite ourselves, and therefore we can avoid the problems and complications of dependency.

By living in deeper energetic connection with our bodies and feelings it is possible to live in a naturally joy-full, harmonious way; one that is more sustainable and pleasurable than anything we could buy, take or experience. Living in connection with our bodies and feelings requires a way of living where we are gentle with ourselves, validating our feelings and the messages the body communicates to us.

FACTS ABOUT ADDICTION

The long term effects of abuse or dependence on alcohol, drugs, food, gambling, pornography, gaming, or any substance or activity that we abuse repetitively can alter:

  • Our ability to feel what is happening by changing our awareness and cutting off our natural connection to ourselves and others
  • Our health and overall wellbeing, leaving us with less energy and vitality
  • Our ability to consistently engage in work
  • Our relationships with ourselves, friends, family
  • Our finances, safety and home
  • Increase levels of stress, anxiety and depression, feelings of paranoia, isolation and shame

A sign of addiction is that your daily focus in life gets narrower and narrower ... in fact your primary relationship in life is then with your preferred way of self-medicating. Indeed you start arranging your whole life around ‘getting on’ and managing your withdrawal till your next ‘HIT’.

Some of the ways we self-medicate are less obvious than others and we may not realise they are a form of addiction.

Even when you clear the physical dependence associated with substance abuse or addiction, you need to address the original psychological underlying causes (traumas, hurts or rejection), or else relapse is likely.

References:

  • [i]

    Oslin, D.W. (2006) Addictions. In D.V. Jeste & J.H. Friedman (Eds.), Psychiatry Neurologists (pp.93-104). Totowa, NJ: Humana Press.

  • [ii]

    Schultz, W. (2006). Behavioural theories and the neurophysiology of reward. Annu. Rev. Psychology, 57, 87-115.

Filed under

DepressionRelationshipsConnectionAddictionAwarenessAnxietyGambling

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